Students in the spring semester course "Disarming Injustice: Nonviolence and the Civil Rights Movement" traveled with their professor to Alabama as they remembered a violent episode in American history.
From left: Ashley Bohle, Emanuel Obi, Kenneth Obi, Josephine Garner, Kira Hood, Associate Professor Frances Ward-Johnson and Elon staff member Jamane Yeager.[/caption]Five students in a spring semester course on nonviolence and civil rights traveled to Alabama for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a pivotal moment in American history and a catalyst for federal legislation that expanded freedoms for all people during the Civil Rights Movement.
Students from the “Disarming Injustice: Nonviolence and the Civil Rights Movement” class joined thousands of people gathered in Selma at the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the weekend of March 7-8, 2015, to remember the police attack on civil rights marchers at the foot of the bridge.
“It was beautiful to see the spirit of the crowds,” said Associate Professor Frances Ward-Johnson in the School of Communications, the course instructor who led the trip to Selma. “There was a diversity of people from all walks of life coming together to honor a single event in civil rights history.”
The Elon group heard President Barack Obama and civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis speak on Saturday and, one day later, followed in the footsteps of civil rights leaders and marched across the infamous bridge. Students also visited museums and participated in a pre-march rally at Brown Chapel Church, where the 1965 marchers based themselves.
“Our class trip was so empowering,” said Kira Hood, a senior biology major from Atlanta. “Hearing President Obama, Rep. John Lewis and many other significant figures speak, brought to light that we need to remember why the civil rights movement began in the first place.”
The violent attack shocked the nation and helped build momentum for passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year. “The trip to Selma was one of the most inspirational and moving experiences of my life,” said Emanuel Obi, a sophomore media analytics major from Mebane, N.C.
One of the goals of the course is for students to use the history of the Civil Rights Movement as a way of thinking about how leaders can use their skills in the service of social causes.
“It has created ripples of passion that makes me, as a black man, want to change the world.” said Kenneth Obi, a sophomore public health major from Mebane.
For sophomore Josephine Gardner, a public health major from Scarborough, Maine, it was her first time seeing the president speak in person.
“This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said. “I feel honored and blessed to be a part of a movement that gave change for people like me to exercise my rights as a citizen to vote and to be represented in politics and to have my voice heard.
“This experience has empowered me to take an active role, not just to educate others about race and history, but to be more fully engaged in politics and social change.”
– Story submitted by Ashley Bohle ‘17